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Showing posts from July, 2010

Our illusions of us

I thought Suhel Seth's characterisation of DimpyMahajan as a 'twit looking for her fifteen seconds of fame' on a TV show last night, wasn't just crass and obnoxious, it was disrespectful of a woman who wasn't there to defend herself.

But I guess, Suhel's not the one to know. After all, what irony! The discussion centred on the dumbing down of Indian Television via reality shows, and Suhel thought Dimpy was part of it. Wish he knew he was too. After all, the loudmouth he is, that's so much what TV news at times is about. An obnoxious reality show with Suhel as a prime participant. I gotta admit, it makes compelling viewing though its mostly one sided with you know who dominating. Mercifully, there's some change of scenery at times. Like a few days ago when RahulMehra took Suhel head on by countering him on the Commonwealth Games, described by the latter as the moment when the world's eyes are on us. When Rahul characterised the loudmouth's view as…

The Danger in Elitism

'One of the ideas that has proved to be almost impervious to evidence is the idea that wise and far-sighted people need to take control and plan economic and social policies so that there will be a rational and just order, rather than chaos resulting from things being allowed to take their own course. It sounds so logical and plausible that demanding hard evidence would seem almost like nit-picking...

The idea that the wise and knowledgeable few need to take control of the less wise and less knowledgeable many has taken milder forms-- and repeatedly with bad results as well...

Science tells us that the human brain reaches its maximum potential in early adulthood. Why then are young adults so seldom capable of doing what people with more years of experience can do?

Because experience trumps brilliance.

Elites may have more brilliance, but those who make decisions for society as a whole cannot possibly have as much experience as the millions of people whose decisions they pre-empt. The …

Who fixes fares? Regulators or Consumers?

A discussion the other day had someone tell me the recent auto fare hike in Bangalore was justified. Why? Because, according to him, auto drivers too deserved enhanced earnings from their services.

Fair? On the face of it, yes, but beneath, that's a pack of lies. Sure, auto-drivers should be allowed to raise fares. In fact any seller should be able to raise prices of whatever it is that he sells. But then the acceptability of that price has to be determined by a consumer. By a consumer who's been given the opportunity of choices. The existence of those 'choices' would then require that the market be unregulated when it comes to 'supply' of services. Meaning anyone, wanting to offer transportation services to buying consumers must be allowed to do so.

But then again, that isn't the kind of market we operate in. Meaning, the supply side is regulated. Which leaves consumers at the mercy of the seller. In other words at the mercy of the Auto-guys. This therefore …

Navigating everyday commerce in India

I don't think too much of a haircut (should I?) and so pop into a neighbourhood salon (rather than a swanky place where they make it seem like its heart surgery) for one. While in the 'act', the barber asks me whether he was the one who presided over the act the last time around. I say yes, and think that's odd. Why does he want to know? Then it hits me. Maybe he asked so he knows what he can charge me. After all I look the Richie-Rich type, so could be for him a perfect prey to an extravagant price. But If he knows he's done my hair the last time around, he can't ask for more. 'Cos I'd know.

Soon the act's done. I give the guy a hundred rupee note. He asks for exact change. I ask how much. He counters, how much did I pay the last time? I don't remember, but I quote a reasonable amount. He's stuck. He thinks I know what I paid last time, though like I said I don't, so he accepts meekly.

I walk out.

Welcome to a typical informal kirana-type …

iPad Owners = Selfish Elites

It’s not exactly official, but should also surprise no one: According to a new study the psychological profile of iPad owners can be summed up as “selfish elites” while have-not critics are “independent geeks.”...

Consumer research firm MyType conducted the study, in which opinions of 20,000 people were analyzed between March and May. The firm’s conclusion was that iPad owners tend to be wealthy, sophisticated, highly educated and disproportionately interested in business and finance, while they scored terribly in the areas of altruism and kindness. In other words, “selfish elites.”

Read the complete story here.

The Branding Lesson from Wikileaks

Now I am not sure if everything on Wikileaks is believable, but one thing's for sure, Wikileaks is a perfect example of how to build a brand with zero communication spend. Again, I don't know if Wikileaks material puts lives at risk, as the Pentagon claims, but you surely gotta give it to them for having conjured up a service that's now on the radar of every major news organisation.

The irony is, Wikileaks possibly couldn't ever have been able to design a communication plan that would have got it the publicity it currently enjoys. That is, if they had designed it, it would've failed. The fact is, they stuck to (read, focused) what they wanted to do. That is, do the 'leaks'. Word spread. On its own (read, media and users did it for them). And so now we all know.

Goes to show how important it is to be 'remarkable' in what ever it is that you as a brand do. As Seth Godin says, being something 'worth making a remark about'. If its worth making a r…

Adapt to Survive

The Bangalore weather reminds me of dynamic business markets. If you can't quickly respond to changing conditions, you go under. Just like I did. The weather here goes from hot n' dry to wet n' cold in hours. The right response should have been a change in clothes. From cottons to woollens. I didn't make the switch, so paid the price.

Business firms too operating in dynamic industry conditions where product life cycles are short should always be at the forefront of adapting to technological changes that alter products for the better. The quicker they adapt, the greater the chances at riding the change in weather and emerging in the pinkest of health. Remember, Sony was a Walkman. But what about when the digital music (MP3) era dawned?

Now I think I've learnt my lesson, though I must say I can't bet on it. After all, as they say, 'old habits die hard'. Don't they?

Want mass usage? Incentivise, not penalise.

Trust government or government and their 'private' business cronies (read, nexus) to be inefficient and business-illiterate. Here's an example. The Bangalore elevated expressway that connects Silk Board to Electronic City has been open to traffic for a few months now. And there's a toll to pay. The smart thing to do would have been to keep toll rates low so as to have greater traffic ply. Instead the authorities keep the rates high and so the expressway doesn't see the kind of traffic needed.

Now, guess how the authorities react to this? They change the rule that says that a toll ticket is valid for 24 hours, to it now being valid only for a particular day. The change may not seem as much, but it really is, because I've had friends who go back and forth three time over two days and yet manage to keep it within 24 hours. These smart alecs will now have to pay a second toll because their three trips fall on two different days.

Also, the authorities have increase th…

Karma Chameleon

Sudeshna's career advice to someone who's lost a job and cant' find another,

'To get your career back on track, I’d advise you to aim lower from your earlier profile. After your first experience, it sounds like you don’t present yourself in the right manner. Nor do you seem to have the survival skills essential for fresher MBAs – which is, fundamentally, lie your way through a job you have no idea how to do, be popular (even if incompetent) with juniors, schmooze with bosses and shift the blame faster than it hits your inbox. It seems your B-school didn’t teach you how to do bumf as well as it should have...'


I get it. This is like Marketing advice. Be what your consumer wants you to be. Be the karma chameleon, at least till the time your company wants you to be?

Read Sudeshna's complete answer here.

Why Think & When?

'It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking about what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the numbers of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in battle -- they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.'

- Alfred North Whitehead

How Perceptions dictate Attitudes

'Under the Bush administration, about 400,000 more African patients received treatment every year. President Obama’s Pepfar strategy would reduce the number of new patients receiving treatment to 320,000 — resulting in 1.2 million avoidable deaths over the next five years, according to calculations by two Harvard researchers, Rochelle Walensky and Daniel Kuritzkes. Doctors would have to decide which of the 22 million Africans afflicted with H.I.V. should receive treatment and which should not.'

That's Archbishop Desmond Tutu lamenting President Barack Obama's decision to spend less than he promised to treat AIDS patients in Africa. And this note, is well below the $1 billion per year he promised to contribute when he was on the campaign trail.

Obama's commitment to Africa is far cry from what President George Bush did in his tenure to the international fight against AIDS. Yet Bush still remains much maligned. And Obama is seen as the messiah. Goes to show how powerfu…

The University System

'Perhaps the most dangerous chokepoint at universities is in research. If your line of inquiry leads to conclusions that are contrary to established beliefs — say, just for the heck of it, if you find evidence that the earth really hasn’t been warming, or even if it is warming that it’s not significantly influenced by human activity — there’s more than a slight chance that your “peer reviewers” won’t be impressed and that your next funding request may not be granted. Just like that, you’re on the outside looking in. As seen in the ClimateGate emails, you’ll also be the recipient of major grief, up to and including active attempts to prevent your work’s publication, from agenda-driven ideologues who are secondarily and not primarily scientists.

If there’s a solution that will lead to the elimination of higher education’s chokepoints, the relentless college cost bubble, where tuition and fees are entering at least their fifth decade of rising faster than general inflation by a substa…

The nature of God

'What is surprising is that the minster-god is not more common in the minds of humans. In the first section of this book it was noted that when we are children our parents are godlike figures to our child's eye, and the way they do things seems to the way they must be done throughout the universe. Our first (and, sadly, often our only) notion of God's nature is a simple extrapolation of our parents' natures, a simple blending of the characters of our mothers and fathers or their substitutes. If we have loving, forgiving parents, we are likely to believe in a loving forgiving God. And in our adult view the world is likely to seem as nurturing a place as our childhood was. If our parents were harsh and punitive, we are likely to mature with a concept of a harsh and punitive monster-god. And if they failed to care for us, we will likely envision the universe as simply uncaring.'

- M Scott Peck, 'The Road Less Travelled.'

Who decides what we learn or eat?

Listening to a debate on the emotive issue of Language in India on TV, I was surprised at how people took it upon themselves to be guardians of what they call Indian culture. What's even more disturbing is the fact that this guardianship running roughshod over what I call 'Individual Liberty' (read, the right to choose) was totally lost on the 'guardians'.The issue being discussed on the program was about what could be a 'link' language in India. The general agreement stayed at 'Hindi'. Of course I don't have a problem with that. But what I have a problem with is if someone (read, government) dictates a certain language be the 'link' language. Now shouldn't it be left to the people to decide the language that take to en masse, which in turn then leads to what will become the link language? For example, if more people choose to learn and converse in English, should it be seen as a problem? What our cultural guardians have a problem wi…

DROID, The anti- digitally clueless iPhone

Being the 'Un-cola' is a cool thing. So is 'Trying Harder'. Dissing the Apple iPhone as being 'digitally clueless' and being the anti-iPhone is super branding strategy.

Move aside, cutesy, hold it a certain way iPhone. Droid's here.

To stay.

Why gun after Vaseline?

What, Vaseline's face-whitening application for Facebook in India has had a phenomenal response!?

I am thoroughly disappointed. Wasn't the Facebook picture profile in the first place been made up to present a countenance drastically different from the real one, therefore not needing a face-whitening application? Or am I to believe kids on Facebook are secure enough to represent their true physical face-self? If that were to be true, it makes for depressing news for lifestyle marketers. After all, for a purchase decision to go through, the genesis is a problem/need recognition. If kids and others are happy with the way they look (no problem, no need), what will happen to the countless creams and concoctions?

To the blogosphere up in arms against this whitening application, for heaven's sake, grow up. The lack of adequacy felt by human kind for your information, isn't restricted to the face alone. I'd extend that perception of inadequacy to every part of the human body…

Retaliate, when you must!

'The damage extended beyond Mr. Bush's presidency. The attacks on Mr. Bush poisoned America's political discourse. Saying the commander-in-chief intentionally lied America into war is about the most serious accusation that can be leveled at a president. The charge was false—and it opened the way for politicians in both parties to move the debate from differences over issues into ad hominem attacks.

At the time, we in the Bush White House discussed responding but decided not to relitigate the past. That was wrong and my mistake: I should have insisted to the president that this was a dagger aimed at his administration's heart. What Democrats started seven years ago left us less united as a nation to confront foreign challenges and overcome America's enemies.'

Dead right, Karl. You should have retaliated because the cowardly attacks on the President that went for the administration's jugular knowingly traipsed into slander territory. Letting it be meant the fe…

Bad Students, not Bad Schools

'Can America escape this third-world magical approach? In principle, little can be done -- Detroit schools reflect popular desires, and if residents choose to think magically, they are free to do so, subject to Michigan law. Nevertheless, Detroiters should recognize that if they want first-world benefits -- everything from reliable, clean running water to functioning hospitals -- then first-world education is mandatory. Detroit educators must eschew printing up diplomas to signify learning among semi-literates and insist that all students learn to read and write at least at eleventh grade level before graduating. Also, forget about "new" schools whose names alone signify erudition, nor is there any need to push the unwilling to college in the hope that the third or fourth exposure to English will bring literacy. Basic, inexpensive proficiency tests abound and can be used tomorrow.

In the final analysis, if Detroiters want to acquire prestigious-appearing degrees that sign…

Play expressions of what isn't talked about

After two and half years, the time came for therapy to end. It was Eric, the eldest boy, who seemed to express most clearly what they were all feeling. He had drawn a picture of a fierce but funny monster. He showed it to Scharff, who asked what it was.

"Its called therapy torture," Eric said grinning. "But there's another picture of him on the other side." He turned over the paper, where he had drawn the same monster with huge eyes, and tears running down his cheeks.

"What is he feeling so sad about?" Scharff asked.

"He's sad because he can't come here anymore."

Again Scharff was struck by how wise children can be, expressing through their play what their parents had been unable to talk about. Taking Eric's lead, the whole family was then able to share their sadness at parting form an experience that had helped them all.

- Recovering from Recovered Memories ('The Mummy at the Dining Table').

A Dad who deserves to die

Beastly behaviour though rare (or is it?) is quite alive and 'kicking'. Take the case of 34-year-old Alex McGowen Duncan who beat his six year son to death because the boy would not fall asleep. What made the story heartbreaking for me is reading that the li'l boy because of the unconditional love he had for his father, would often tell him, ‘I love you daddy.' And in return what he got makes me literally sick.

I am a father myself, to a three and a half year old son. The joy he brings to his mom and me is indescribable. Of course his naughty self at times is bothersome, but knowing he is at his vulnerablest and innocent best only enhances the love we feel for him. In fact, I am most disappointed in my own self when I unfairly chide him for a behaviour that's so natural to a boy his age. I am then struck by my own admission of frailty (read, inability to manage my own emotions).

No child deserves anything other than mature nurturing from parents. Because its that nur…

Why The Dhoni brand pips Sachin

I am not surprised Indian cricket captain MS Dhoni has signed a deal worth 200 crores with a sports management firm. Tell you what, he's worth that and more. More than even Indian cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar. The reason's to do with the breadth of his associative appeal.

Celebrity endorsers are expected to transfer their appeal on to a product brand thus building for it an identity that translates into a 'pull' among its target consumer segment. Dhoni's got greater breadth when it comes to an association with brands. On a similar count Sachin's appeal is limited. The breadth of characteristics you associate with Dhoni is surely more than that of Sachin. Dhoni's a looker who's also seen as a natural leader. He's perceived as Captain Cool. He's gutsy too and can play an innings under pressure. What's more, Dhoni's been untouched by any scandals. He's made it to getting married without any major controversies.

All of this means he can a…

Wooing the Middle Class

'While there are multiple approaches to capturing emerging-market consumers, the two critical factors are speed and scale. Our experience suggests that one way multinationals can quickly gain the scale they need is to identify clusters of similar consumers across multiple markets. That approach allows these companies to build revenue and profit streams that are collectively material and justify significant, ongoing capital investments to fuel growth. Another tack is to work at a more local level, gaining scale in specific regions and categories by teaming up with deeply knowledgeable on-the-ground partners. They can help not only in product development but also in distribution and market positioning—the crucial final steps to reaching highly local consumer markets.All of this is easier said than done, of course, because consumers in emerging markets are extremely diverse. In some ways, they resemble those in developed nations: they are aware of and have a fondness for …

Why Lindsay can't ever be Marilyn

Lindsay's insufferable antics moved into new territory with her stenciled fingernails in court. Of course, the idea was to keep her controversial self alive. After all, that's food for her celebrity status. But what Lindsay's really done is move from 'controversial' to 'trash'. And in doing so she's I believe, lost out on probable sympathy, to now inherit repulsive infamy.

Lindsay isn't and will never be a Marilyn. Despite Marilyn's tryst with controversy she remained in the eyes of an adoring public, an object of both sympathy and admiration. Marilyn was wronged. She DID no wrong. Lindsay on the other hand knowingly did wrong. And so instead of the hankies, its the knives that are out.

Brands courting controversy is good for publicity. Brands knowingly doing wrong may get the publicity they want, but in addition earn brickbats and disgust from a public shocked and repulsed by the antics. The fallout's a certain loss of followers, thus lost pa…

Deciphering decisons

We tend to think that its decisions we take that we struggle with. Truth is, its easier for us to come to terms with our own judgements. Its harder when its some one else's that calls for our understanding. I mean it isn't easy for us many a times to see another's judgement call for what caused it, especially when it runs contrary to what have been our call for that very same context. Emotionally Intelligent people are ones who can decipher a decision to understand the intricacies that caused it. And that is why when it comes to social relationships, people high on Emotional Quotient do well.

Every decision has behind it a contextual influence and a process that it goes through. Understanding the influence and process is critical to deciphering the decision that's been taken.

Ditto in the consumer world too. Every consumption decision has behind it an influence and a decision process. The two critical influencers to a consumption decision are the Marketing Mix and the So…

Class of 2012

Welcome class of 2012 to Alliance. Its great to have you guys on campus. Wishing you a wonderful journey of learning.

'Exfoliating' in soaps is a 'Point of Difference'

This is quite the soapy story, so proceed at your own risk.

I spy this soap in our home pantry and its called 'No Marks Scrub Soap'. Its supposed to be an exfoliating soap. I am intrigued and so give it a try. My experience with the soap brings back childhood memories of bathing at a stream. Invariably at such times the damn soap would slip out of my li'l hands and fall on to the muddy bank. Retrieving it and continuing meant using a muddy-sandy soap with a sandpaper feel on your skin. 'No Marks' Scrub Soap feels just the same.

I am thrilled. Here's an extended brand from Ozone Ayurvedics (extension of the No Marks Face cream) that's brought in a unique selling proposition that acts as a 'point of difference' in the soap category. Exfoliating as an attribute is new to soaps. Never mind that meaning a sandy soap. The concept and the subsequent positioning is brilliant. A soap that can clear away dead cells and leave your skin glowing with fresh cells i…

The reason for Prosperity

'In Europe, the leaders in developing medieval technology were not philosophers, but craftsmen, merchants, and businessmen -- in a word, entrepreneurs. There were profits to be derived from the new technologies. A water-powered mill required a considerable capital investment, but the investment was likely to return a significant profit. Inventive, free people looked for ways to improve their productivity. Individuals profited, and society prospered...

Thus the world was transformed -- not by philosophers, scientists, or politicians, but by engineers, craftsmen, and entrepreneurs. Writing in 1768, Joseph Priestley predicted that "whatever was the beginning of this world, the end will be glorious and paradisaical, beyond what our imaginations can now conceive." Thanks to European inventors, Priestley's prediction was fulfilled.'

- David Deming, 'How Europeans Invented the Modern World'.

The stumbling Ideal Self

I used to wonder why people, including my students, had a problem with the concept of 'perceptions dictating reality'. To me it was as evident as blood was to a swirling fin. I even tried presenting the case of Gablinger and Miller Lite. Both were light beers. The former failed while the latter went on to becoming an iconic low calorie beer. The reason why one failed when the exact other went platinum can be ascribed to perceptual positioning. Gablinger called itself a 'low calorie beer'. Miller Lite was introduced as 'less filling' under the slogan 'Everything you want in a beer...and less'. To beer drinkers the latter presented a picture drastically different from the former, despite the products being the same. Drinkers took lock, stock and barrel to a 'less-filling' beer. They disliked a beer termed 'low calorie'.

The beer trick was about dictating right perceptions. The one who got it right got consumers. the other failed.

Yet like I …

Enhanced Technology ain't a better Consumer Solution

Its interesting how marketers confuse advanced technology for being a better consumer solution. As a standalone entity it isn't. For advanced technology to turn an enhanced solution, various other factors have to fall in place. This is well demonstrated in the concept of 'Diffusion of Innovation'. Accelerating consumer demand for an innovation requires that it have a relative advantage, be compatible, not be high in complexity, be easy in terms of trialability, have higher levels of observability and ride on the availability of complementary products. If these factors aren't satisfied, it would be while before consumer demand perks up.

Currently there's so much brouhaha being made about 3G in the Indian mobile landscape. Truth is, it isn't all hunky dory as Dr. Madhukar Angur points out in his article titled, 'Will the 3G call be dropped?'. He points to difficulties in the roll out of 3G in India and the the challenges it faces. The challenges identified…

All Men are Equal

'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.'

- The United States Declaration of Independence.

Happy B'day America

'If you do one thing this weekend, go online and look up the Declaration – and that of the old Soviet constitution. Let the distinctions sink in. The Soviet promises may at first sound familiar – freedom of press, religion, speech, assembly. But then there are promises of education, health care, care in old age, right to work, leisure, housing, cultural benefits – all government gifts. Note this phrase: "Enjoyment of the rights and freedoms of citizens must not be to the detriment of the interests of society or the state." What the central power gives it also can take.

Now review the Declaration of Independence. It is a pledge that government exists to protect each and every person's foundational liberties. I've traveled and interviewed political leaders around the world, and this is America's signal distinction, they tell me: What makes America different is that a person's rights are not conferred by government; they are natural...

This is so important, in…


'The larger moral of this story is that Wikipedia itself is a fundamentally flawed and unreliable source. In fact, it is wrong even to describe — much less to use — Wikipedia as a source. Wikipedia is merely a platform. Since anyone and everyone can edit Wikipedia entries and since they can do so anonymously, Wikipedia is, by its very nature, susceptible to constant manipulation. Indeed, even editors who choose to reveal their real identities remain for all intents and purposes anonymous. Readers will not, as a rule, search out the authorship of each and every edit, and they would not, as a rule, know who the authors are even if they did. As such, Wikipedia editors have no reputations, so they have no reputations to hurt.

At its best, Wikipedia would be essentially just a clearing house of citations of other sources and those sources would necessarily often be competing and discordant. The truth, as is its wont, would only emerge in the process of discussion and debate.'

- John…

How Schools induce College behaviour

Two seemingly unrelated incidents. Yet its funny when I think about it, one's almost a mirror image of the other.

Driving back a few days ago, we have this conversation where a colleague tells me about the school and college system in India. School's pretty good, as its rigorous; college's terrible (barring a few good ones) as there's no rigour, plus the teaching's pathetic. I give it some thought and say, really? Sure, faculty may be to blame, but what about the kids? How many kids in India go to graduate school (read, college) to study? Isn't college a waiting liberation from the oppression of schools that they just been through? Kids at college aren't in interested studies, 'cos they've just gotten out of a system that was more than overbearing. The stress induced fatigue from school now finds an avenue called college, for release. Therefore its now all play.

Another colleague of mine visits an authorised Maruti service station to get his dented ca…

The Illusion & Reality in Marketing

Travelling in a bus in India? A piece of advice, never sit at the back, because if you do there's a good chance your body's skeletal structure will be rearranged. For the worse. You can blame such radical rearrangement on Indian roads. At least up front in a bus, the impact ain't as much.

This morning my bus ride had me sitting at the back. And so currently I am putting my bones back in order. But tell you what, such rides are important for one reason. It puts me in touch with the reality that Indian infrastructure is.

For people, reality doses are rare, or at least they try and make it rare. Especially the rich and upper middle class. Liberalisation has ensured that such products and services are available that cocoon consumers from the harsh reality that living in India is. For the illusion that bathtubs in a few loos are, the reality is a vast majority that stands in queues for a bucket of water. Such extremes are common in a country like ours. It is therefore important f…